It’s not often that you’ll find the likes of Shelley, Keats, Wordsworth and Byron mined for their comic potential, let alone as guidelines for modern living, but that’s what Flora Anderson attempts with her debut hour. Romantic marries her love of literature with her experiences as a young woman and is evidence of a fierce intelligence and keen comic sense, but has one glaring flaw.
Anderson is a comedian of huge promise but is lacking, for the moment at least, a distinctive voice in comparison with the likes of Maisie Adam and Lauren Pattison, both of whom appear to have burst on to the scene in the last few years almost fully-formed. It’s perhaps trite to bring up the vinegary old chestnut of class as a possible explanation, but Adam and Pattison are examples of more working class acts that have grabbed a mike and demanded to have their say. Anderson by contrast seems to have gone the other way. Self-deprecation is a useful comedy tool, and there is a lot of mileage in being self-aware of privilege, but Anderson comes across as straight-up apologetic.
This sheepishness compounds a slightly twitchy stage presence, and the hour is peppered with defensive tics and observations that drift away into the ether. Surely the idea of diversity is that hitherto under-represented voices are elevated to a level of equality; not that others have to be correspondingly quietened? It feels like Anderson is performing a public penance for something over which she has no control and is trying to preempt criticism but tipping over into self-sabotage.
It’s a real shame, but at this early stage of her career, it’s by no means insurmountable. The young comic definitely connects with several members of the crowd more attuned to her current wavelength, and who are vocally supportive. When she hits a groove, she’s a fine joke-teller. A routine about her favourite modes of social interaction is a textbook use of the ‘rule of three’ gag and the punchline hits hard coming as it does out of left-field; a killer hook of which many established acts would be jealous.
Anderson’s use of the Romantic poets in her show seems to be used as a device of necessity rather than being woven into the show organically. When used as parallels for more recognisably ‘Millennial’ concerns such as Love Island and the Kardashians, the juxtaposition works really well. A recurring tale of a university drama group coup that mirrors the plot of the play they were performing, Julius Caesar, is also deftly done. This thematic conceit is however jettisoned for long periods, only being picked up again here and there.
Flora Anderson should be applauded for trying something ambitious for her debut show, but she’s hamstrung herself by over-compensating for her perceived privilege. If she can acknowledge it without it becoming a millstone, it’s not an outlandish prediction that she will have a bright future. The talent is there.